Two Sides of the Same Coin

The Song of Achilles vs. The Silence of the Girls

Hello! Thank you for your feedback on my past post! Keep it coming.

This week’s post focuses on a single story portrayed in two very different ways, both equally fascinating. I hope you enjoy it!

mariana


Why did I read these books?

Earlier this year, I became slightly obsessed with *Greek mythology*. I started devouring one book after another, and ended up stumbling upon The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Weeks later, my beloved friend Sol told me she had finished The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, and insisted that I read it too. I was very surprised to see that both books were narrating the same story in an entirely different way. After finishing The Silence of the Girls, I wondered whether this version might actually be the closest one to reality, if any of it had actually happened.

*A post dedicated fully to Greek mythology book recommendations is coming soon.

Why should you read these two books?

  • “History is the lies of the victors” Julian Barnes once wrote in his book The Sense of an Ending. When I finished reading The Silence of the Girls, this quote came to my mind. Is he right? Do we tend to believe stories narrated by the winners and forget about the other point of view? What happens when we read the same story narrated by people on opposing sides? Who is right? 

“The defeated go down in history and disappear, and their stories die with them.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

  • Two sides of a single coin: Both books have The Iliad at their core, but one of them is narrated from the point of view of Patroclus whilst the other is narrated from that of Briseis. While the story of the Iliad seems to be always the same, introducing different perspectives changes everything for the reader. 

“He is worth more to you, perhaps. But the stranger is someone else’s friend, and brother. So which life is more important?”

― Madeline Miller (The Song of Achilles)

  • Greek mythology is fascinating: I never read any Greek mythology at school, it’s only recently that I started to discover and adore this world. Everything I’ve read has been entertaining, creative and fun. I also feel that I can understand many more Greek references that are still widely used today.

Which one should you read first?

  • I read The Song of Achilles first, and I recommend that order for maximum suspense. That being said, if you had to read only one, make sure you read The Silence of the Girls. 

Links to buy the book

Amazon UK

Amazon MX

Amazon US

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Favourite quotes

//The purpose of this section is to share some of my favourite book bits, so you can come back to them when you finish a book, if you wish to do so. I’ve put in bold my favourite ones, in case you want to read a few (or all) ahead of the book.//

“Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of mortal inventions. ‘No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from.’”

― Madeline Miller (The Song of Achilles)

“My father had spent his life scrabbling to keep his kingdom, and would not risk losing it over such a son as me, when heirs and the wombs that bore them were so easy to come by.”

― Madeline Miller (The Song of Achilles)

“The voices of the dead were said to have the power to make the living mad.”

― Madeline Miller (The Song of Achilles)

“Rumours were the only coin the boys had to trade in.”

― Madeline Miller (The Song of Achilles)

“He said what he meant; he was puzzled if you did not. Some people might have mistaken this for simplicity. But is it not a sort of genius to cut always to the heart?”

― Madeline Miller (The Song of Achilles)

“He had always trusted too easily; he had had so little in his life to fear or suspect. [...] His trust was a part of him, as much as his hands or his miraculous feet. And despite my hurt, I would not wish to see it gone, to see him as uneasy and fearful as the rest of us, for any price.”

― Madeline Miller (The Song of Achilles)

“Pride became us – heroes were never modest.”

― Madeline Miller (The Song of Achilles)

“You can use a spear as a walking stick, but that will not change its nature.”

― Madeline Miller (The Song of Achilles)

“Apparently the best were allowed their indulgences.”

― Madeline Miller (The Song of Achilles)

“But even I could not fill each minute with fear. I have heard that men who live by a waterfall cease to hear it – in such a way did I learn to live beside the rushing torrent of his doom.”

― Madeline Miller (The Song of Achilles)

“It is right to seek peace for the dead. You and I both know there is no peace for those who live after.”

― Madeline Miller (The Song of Achilles)

“What is admired in one generation is abhorred in another.”

― Madeline Miller (The Song of Achilles)


“How was it possible for these high walls that had protected us all our lives to fall?”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“Mynes seemed entirely unaware of the tension, but then in my experience men are curiously blind to aggression in women.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“I wondered whether facing the future was harder if you were responsible for other lives. [...] I had only my own burden to bear and, looking at that exhausted mother, I felt the freedom of that – and the loneliness.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“It was like lying on the chest of somebody who loves you, somebody you know you can trust – though the sea loves nobody and can never be trusted. I was immediately aware of a new desire, to be part of it, to dissolve into it: the sea that feels nothing and can never be hurt.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“Nobody wins a trophy and hides it at the back of a cupboard. You want it where it can be seen, so that other men will envy you.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“This is what free people never understand. A slave isn’t a person who’s being treated as a thing. A slave is a thing, as much in her own estimation as in anybody else’s.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“Things did change – they always do –”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“I seemed to be living in a bubble, no past, no future, only an endless repetition of now and now and now.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“As long as I lived and remembered, they weren’t entirely dead.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“But it’s amazing how the body struggles to survive even when the spirit’s ready to depart.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“How do you separate a tiger’s beauty from its ferocity? Or a cheetah’s elegance from the speed of its attack? Achilles was like that – the beauty and the terror were two sides of a single coin.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“No god I know of listens to the prayers of slaves, and yet I was transfixed by this old man.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“A lot of food got wasted in that camp, because nobody there had worked long hours to grow the crops or tend the cattle.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“Yes. I was a slave, and a slave will do anything, anything at all, to stop being a thing and become a person again.”

Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“And if we know what we’ve done – or not done – we can put it right.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“All those big words being bandied about – but for me there was only one word, one very small word: it. It doesn’t belong to him, he hasn’t earnt it.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“But human memory doesn’t last long – three generations, at best – and then the slow, unnumbered centuries begin, grass growing tall on his burial mound, and people driving past in chariots he can’t imagine will pause and say: ‘What do you suppose that is? It looks man-made.’”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“That’s what hurts – not the girl – the insult, the blow to his pride.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“Men carve meaning into women’s faces; messages addressed to other men.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“His silences were getting steadily louder.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“A dead man’s wishes carry enormous weight with the living, particularly when the dead man has been as deeply loved as Patroclus.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

We all try to make crazy deals with the gods, often without really knowing we’re doing it.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“Now, he can see what he’s been trying to do: to bargain with grief. Behind all this frenetic activity there’s been the hope that if he keeps his promises there’ll be no more pain. But he’s beginning to understand that grief doesn’t strike bargains. There’s no way of avoiding the agony – or even of getting through it faster. It’s got him in its claws and it won’t let go till he’s learnt every lesson it has to teach.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“It’s lonely being the last man left alive.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“The men won’t look at him. All the time he’s here they keep busy, carrying buckets of water, polishing, rubbing, breathing on the metal, checking the gloss, rubbing again. Nervous, because he’s watching them; making mistakes, because he’s watching them. And so he forces himself to turn away. Nobody looks him in the face now, it’s as if his grief frightens them. What are they afraid of? That one day they’ll have to endure pain like this? Or that they never will, that they’re incapable of it, because grief’s only ever as deep as the love it’s replaced.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“They’re close, these men, so close they’re almost touching, but their griefs are parallel, not shared.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“I do what no man before me has ever done, I kiss the hands of the man who killed my son. [...] And I do what countless women before me have been forced to do. I spread my legs for the man who killed my husband and my brothers.

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

“‘Silence becomes a woman.’ Every woman I’ve ever known was brought up on that saying.”

― Pat Barker (The Silence of the Girls)

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